Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl preview

The Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) features No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) against No. 25 USC (9-4). It’s one of just two pre-New Year’s Day bowls to feature a matchup of two ranked teams.

Who to watch: The Bulldogs feature the top-ranked passing offense in the country (409.8 yards per game) and a quarterback -- Derek Carr -- who is the national leader in passing yards (4,866) and touchdowns (48). Carr’s favorite target, wide receiver Davante Adams, leads the FBS in catches (122) and touchdowns (23). The Trojans led the Pac-12 with the fewest passing yards allowed per game (214.5) and will look to pressure Carr with a strong front that is led by outside linebacker Devon Kennard (9 sacks, 13 TFL) and defensive end Leonard Williams (6 sacks, 13.5 TFL).

What to watch: The USC offensive line will play with new starters at center and right guard after injuries to the regular starters against UCLA. That line will look to protect quarterback Cody Kessler and give him time to throw to a pair of dangerous receivers in Marqise Lee -- who is as healthy as he’s been all year -- and Nelson Agholor. Fresno State counters with a defense, led by linebacker Ejiro Ederaine, that tied for the national lead in sacks (3.25 per game), but it can be vulnerable in the secondary -- the Bulldogs rank No. 116 in the FBS by allowing 277.4 passing yards per game.

Why to watch: Both teams have something to prove. Fresno State came close to earning a BCS berth and a shot at an undefeated season before a shocking 62-52 loss to San Jose State in the regular-season finale. The Bulldogs would love to finish with a 12th win -- which would set a school record -- especially one that comes against a big-name opponent such as USC. The Trojans, on the other hand, have fought through a tumultuous season that has them playing under their third head coach. The rallying cry in the weeks leading up to the bowl game was the chance to reach 10 wins, an accomplishment that would mean a lot after all this team has gone through. And, as an aside, this game also will offer something of a preview for next year as these two teams will meet to open the 2014 season.

Prediction: USC 42, Fresno State 40